This week's parsha is Shlach. Shlach means 'send'. Here we find the whole story of the 12 spies who were sent ahead of the Jewish people to scout out the land of Israel. The problem was, all except 2 came back and said we can't go in, the land is impossible to conquer.... the people there are too powerful.... the list goes on. For this sin of speaking lashon hara we were destined to wander in the desert for another 40 years - one day for each day they scouted out the Land of Israel - and only the next generation would be able to enter the land. In fact, our sages explain that every tragedy that has befallen us since then is due in part to this sin of the spies that we read about this week .
All because of lashon hara. Bad speech. In fact, the gemara says that this is where we learn that we shouldn't speak lashon hara. If this is what happened when they spoke badly about stones and wood, how much worse must it be to speak badly about other people!! The gemara actually makes some shocking statements when describing just how bad it really is to speaak badly about other people. Probably the most powerful statement is that Lashon Hara is worse than the three cardinal sins - thats idolatry, adultery, and murder - combined! Now, the gemara is not kidding when it says this statement.... but what can it possibly mean? I understand that it's bad to speak about people behind their backs... but how can you tell me it's worse than these three sins combined!? They are the worst things a person can possibly do. In fact, these are the ONLY three things that if a person holds a gun to your head and says do them or die, you say goodbye and bite the bullet. You don't do that if he says "Speak lashon hara or I'll shoot!" In that case, you choose the juiciest piece of gossip you have, find a friend, and go for it.
So what does it mean that lashon hara is worse than idolatry, adultery, and murder combined? And why was the spies speaking of lashon hara enough to condemn our nation to 40 years wandering in the desert and a history of trouble and turmoil to follow?
To understand this, we need to realise first and foremost who we are. Man is the only species with the gift of speech. Where does that come from? Where does our ability to speak come from? From that fact that Hashem breathed into us a soul. When He did that, He gave us the power of speech, and our Sages teach us that He also handed over the leadership of the world into our hands.
To explain with a crude analogy if I may: Imagine that Hashem is somewhere upstairs, and down here is our world, and in between is a complex system of pipes. Those pipes transport the energy that is the fuel of our world down here. Without that energy our world would cease to exist. By constantly sending that energy down here Hashem is constantly creating the world. So what does it mean that He handed the leadership of the world over to us? He gave us the ability to open and close those pipes. When the we live our lives according to the guidelines that He set out for us, those pipes are all open. When that happens all the problems of the world cease. No war, no famine, no poverty. A perfect world. Because everything that Hashem wants to send into the world is arriving here properly. However when we stray from His guidelines, those pipes are closed, and problems start popping up, and people start fighting, and our world falls apart. But it all starts with us. That is the spiritual structure of our world.
In other words, we are the soul of the world. Each of our actions has the ability to create, or destroy worlds. The main tool we were given for this is our speech. Only man has the ability to speak. To really use our ability of speech properly means to see the truth in something and be able to put it into words. That's true speech. To express true ideas instead of talking rubbish. In the aleph beis, the letter ayin comes just before peh. You probably know that ayin in Ivrit also means eye, and peh means mouth. There's a reason for that… this language didn't just 'happen' into existence…. Hashem created it! The reason why ayin comes before peh is because that is true speech. True speech means to first see the truth in everything in the world, and then put it into speech. First ayin, then peh. When we live according to the truth of the world, and strive every day to see this world as Hashem intended, instead of deciding for ourselves what it looks like - when we try to see and then speak - those pipes are wide open.
The spies did the opposite. They used their peh before their ayin. They spoke before they saw. Meaning, when they went in to tour out the land, they weren't objective. They weren't trying to really see what Hashem wanted that trip to teach them. They decided for themselves what should be. Once you do that, you will only see what you want to see. That's lashon hara. You say things that aren't true about someone because your peh is coming before your ayin. Your mouth is speaking without collecting the truth that the eye is seeing. That's called in ivrit speaking sheker, or lies. That's lashon hara.
Now we can understand why the spies sin here was so terrible that it meant an entire generation wandering around in the desert and not being allowed to enter the Land of Israel, and why speaking lashon hara is worse than idolatry, adultery, and murder combined. It's not really worse than these three things combined, but the gemara is trying to tell us that in a way it is worse, because when a person speaks lashon hara, they are taking the main strength that Hashem gave them to create the world, to run the world properly, to create life, and they are using it to create death. There is no greater failure of Man to live up to his potential than this.
It turns out that from a tragic event of our history we can learn an incredibly important and empowering lesson. This is a lesson that we must repeat to ourselves every day until it is ingrained into every fibre of our beings. Each of us have been given the ability to lead this world. Hashem conducts it based on us and our actions. Every one of us can create a world of peace and harmony by living a life of truth and striving for good. By seeing the world as Hashem intended, instead of letting ourselves be convinced that what we want to see really exists, when often it doesn't.
Every day our actions are defining the reality we live in. How? I like to call it "Soul power". And we have absolutely no idea, how powerful we really are.
Good Shabbos!

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